Working as a piano technician
Rolf Dragsta has been a piano tuner and technician for over 40 years. Here he shares some thoughts on the the profession, including why these skills are becoming increasingly sought after. You can also see him in action in this short film.
I come from a family of piano tuners – I'm the third generation. My father, a master builder of pianos who trained at the Blüthner Factory in Germany, was my teacher.
My son made this short film about me, but he can also regulate the repetition on a grand piano.
I tune pianos almost every working day, but I also work on the mechanism inside. A piano action is a set of 88 clockworks in a row, and they all have to do the same thing and feel the same when you press the key. It’s about an even touch and tone.
Such a job can take a day or two, or longer – especially if it's worn, broken or missing parts need mending and replacing. But if it's kept in the right place and regulated properly, a piano can last for decades and will play at its best.
Skills for repairing pianos
For tuning, you need to sharpen your ears – not so much musically to begin with, but acoustically. They will be the ultimate judge of your work.
Working on piano actions will give you sure and sharp eyes, and teach your fingertips a very delicate touch.
You don’t need to be a piano player, but it did help my ears that I learned to play the violin as a child. You also will have to train your hand for firm, but tiny, movements when turning the tuning crank.
Working on piano actions will give you sure and sharp eyes, and teach your fingertips a very delicate touch. And you will learn to stay focused and patient for hours. You’ll have to! Trust the pianos and they will teach you.
So be warned: work can be hard. But if the result is beautiful, you'll realise it’s a skill worthy to develop as you learn so much on the way. In time, with practice and experience, it will come easier too.
A profession in demand
The skill is rare. Most older pianos in this country are not kept in tune regularly – once or twice a year – and most of their actions need regulating.
So there’s a lot of work out there! And it will pay well if you know what you’re doing and win the trust of your clients: in private homes, schools, studios, churches and concert halls.
There’s a lot of work out there! And it will pay well if you know what you’re doing.
Lots of people now get started off on electronic keyboards. But if they get any good at it, they will start looking for and listening to the real thing. So don’t worry: just like violins, saxophones or guitars, pianos will keep on selling.
Unfortunately there is only one college course for piano tuning left in the whole country. But if you’re interested and think you might have some talent, the patience and the guts to do it, watch this space.
I’m one of a team of three experienced piano tuners and technicians. And we are determined to set up a workshop-based course for apprentices in the Greater London area, to teach this skill properly and pass it on.
Who will look after the grand pianos in the concert halls, and all those other pianos in this huge musical hub in 15 years’ time? That’s the question. If you are equally determined to give it a try, please contact us.